Misuse of antibiotics puts us all at risk

Sunday November 11 2018

Antibiotic resistance is a reality that

Antibiotic resistance is a reality that threatens our future health. FOTOSEARCH 

By MATSHIDISO MOETI
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) will join the global community to observe the World Antibiotic Awareness Week from November 12 to 18, 2018. The overall theme is “Think Twice. Seek Advice.”

WHO will showcase the immense work underway to tackle antimicrobial resistance, and which will demonstrate the link between antibiotics and humans, animals and the environment.

Antibiotic resistance is a reality that threatens our future health.

Nothing less than global health security is at stake when antibiotics are misused. From being life-savers, antibiotics are becoming ineffective against resistant infections affecting people of any age, and in any country.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria (not humans or animals) become resistant to the active ingredients in these medicines. These resistant bacteria may infect humans and animals, making infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhoea hard to treat.

The reasons for rising antibiotic resistance include over-prescription, misuse by patients, overuse in farming, poor infection control, and a lack of new antibiotics. We can help address this by seeking advice from health professionals before taking antibiotics. They are a precious resource.

Data

Laboratories and researchers have a critical role to play in identifying resistant bacteria and contributing to the global effort so that the world can take the appropriate action.

Africa lacks data on the scope and scale of antibiotic resistance.

However, we know that antibiotic resistance is rising because common bacteria which cause urinary tract infections, diarrhoea and septic wounds, among others, are becoming resistant to readily available and prescribed antibiotics.

Across the continent, laboratories can help by looking out for evidence of resistance in the bacteria they see, and to feed this information into national and regional efforts to understand how it spreads and where it poses the greatest risk.

Good practices

Hospitals and health centres can help keep infections at bay with thorough hygiene and sanitation practices.

Infections spread when sanitation, hygiene and infection control measures are not followed. Healthcare practitioners should always practice good infection prevention and control. In addition, they should only prescribe and dispense antibiotics when they are truly needed, inform patients on how to use them appropriately, and educate patients on how to avoid common infections.

All hospitals and community health centres should strive to control the spread of infections by making use of the best possible hygiene and sanitations measures available.

Proper use

Patients should never demand nor share antibiotics, and only use them when prescribed by a certified healthcare professional.

Similarly, farmers and food producers can help by giving antibiotics to animals only to control or treat infectious diseases, and phase out the routine use of antibiotics to promote growth.

Ensuring that patients and animals use antibiotics only when they are really needed is critical to keeping antibiotics effective for as long as possible.

Research

Investments are needed to build a smarter world for safe and effective medicines.

Research and development is the cornerstone of new, life-saving antibiotics. However, since the 1980s, there have been very few new antibiotics.

Incentives for public-private partnerships to invest in new medicines, vaccines and diagnostic tools are urgently needed to stimulate the development of new antibiotics and therapies. Governments, funding agencies and the private sector need to invest and work together to secure safe, effective medicines for generations to come.

WHO in the African Region has made the fight against antibiotic resistance a top priority, and is working with countries to develop and implement action plans to combat antibiotic resistance and generate reliable data for action.

We are helping countries to build resilient health systems through stronger regulation and policies which promote the appropriate use of quality antibiotics.

Misuse of antibiotics puts us all at risk.